#1 – I’m thinking of writing a book….

A few days ago, I posted (and then deleted) a post on six things not to say to an author. I meant it to be funny and clever, and as sometime happens on social media, the humour fell flat. But since so many people responded seriously, I thought I’d expand on the points I was attempting to make in a more thoughtful manner.

The first was: Don’t tell an author you’re thinking of writing a book.

I have heard that complaint repeatedly from my author pals and have experienced it myself all too often. We’ll be at a dinner party or some kind of work function or reception. Someone finds out we’ve written a book. The conversation usually goes like this: “Oh, I’m thinking of writing a book too. Maybe you can give me some tips on getting it published.”

For some reason, for me at least, these conversations always involve complete strangers who have never heard of me or my book . (In fact, in one case, after asking me dozens of questions about how to get published, the would-be author told me she never reads mysteries; she doesn’t like them. )

I usually ask what kind of book it is they plan to write. Often they have a very vague idea. Sometimes it’s about their family history, or something related to their work. (One wouldn’t tell me; she was concerned I might steal her idea.)

Now this kind of conversation happens to me at least two or three times a week. When it does, I answer the questions, and make suggestions, and try to be polite about it, because I don’t think the people doing it realize  how romanticized their view of writing is.

“I think my book will do really well,” one woman said to me. “People really like books about [topic X]. It should sell thousands of copies.” 

I tried to explain that I didn’t think X actually was a topic that would sell very well unless she had some unique way of making it stand out in a crowded market. I also pointed out that a bestseller in Canada is 5,000 books. I suggested she might consider putting it out as an e-book instead. She immediately asked if I would co-author it. (That is the fifth time, I think, in the last couple of months that I’ve had a virtual stranger ask me to help them write their book.)

The romantic notion is, “well if you’ve written a book, then so can I, and mine will be really good.” All that may be absolutely true. But  it fails to take into account that there’s no guarantee of success, that it’s no easy matter to find an agent or a publisher, and more importantly, that you really have to be willing to invest the thousands of hours of time required to do it.

For  most authors, it takes years to write a manuscript and get it polished enough to send out to agents and publishers. Once they do, most endure countless rejections and smackdowns before they find an agent Some never get picked up.  Many of those that do get published discover that their books don’t do all that well, even if they were really good books that reviewers loved.

There are lots of people who want information about how to get published: that’s why I started this blog. (I would have loved to pick someone’s brain when my manuscript was done on how to get it published, too.)

But there’s a difference between being asked to help someone who actually has a  draft manuscript and someone who is simply thinking about writing. One is still daydreaming; the other is at least doing the work.

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8 Responses to #1 – I’m thinking of writing a book….

  1. diana says:

    I am so in awe of writers and am always interested in how they started and where they get their inspiration from.


  2. People dont really want to write. They want to have written…
    It’s like on “Cheers” when Coach (the old retired ballplayer) told Sam that he was working on a book. Sam said, “that’s great, Coach.” And Coach said, “yeah, they really take a long time to read.”


  3. RP Fields says:

    Yikes, people really do need humour lessons sometimes, don’t they? Sorry the earlier post didn’t work out, but this one is really interesting.

    It reminds me of an old joke about a writer and a brainsurgeon. When the doctor hears what the writer does, he says “I plan on taking up writing when I retire.” The author replies “What a coincidence, I am planning on taking up brain surgery. “


  4. Laff! Peggy, you put it so well. I can’t tell you the number of times complete strangers have said to me: “I have this great idea for a novel. If you want to write it, I’ll split the profits with you.” And yes, it is a running joke the number of times people have found out I am an author, and immediately want to tell me all about the book they want to write before asking a single thing about mine. Love this post!


  5. Peggy Blair says:

    Absolutely right! Those are the ones who could care less about my book; all they want is my time.


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